Deaths such as actor Heath Ledger’s drug overdose from a mixture of medications have soared since the 1980’s according to a study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine yesterday. The authors studied 50 million death certificates since 1983, and found that there were more than 224,000 fatal medication errors, including mixing prescription drugs with alcohol and street drugs. Astonishingly, deaths from medication mistakes at home have risen 700 percent from 1983 to 2004, with 1,132 deaths in 1983 and 12,246 in 2004.
This huge increase in fatalities is attributable to several factors, including the widespread home use of prescription medications like Oxycodone, (which 25 years ago was much more likely to be prescribed in hospitals than for home use), people sharing prescriptions, patients ignoring the risk of mixing alcohol with prescriptions, and as in the case of Heath Ledger, the mixing of medications which are contraindicated. The huge increase in deaths is highest among people in their 40’s and 50’s.